As anyone who’s ever lived with a dog can attest, dogs’ emotions are complex and occasionally bewildering. And for some dogs, emotions are overwhelming. Whether they’re tearing up the house in sheer terror because a beloved owner leaves for a few hours, or they’re shamelessly snarling and lunging at every dog who walks by, some dogs struggle to cope with the stresses of everyday life.
The science of dog behavioral pharmacology aims to help exhausted pet owners and their stressed-out four-legged companions. Although it was once controversial to prescribe mental health medications to dogs, the pioneering work of Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a Tufts University veterinarian, has steadily moved dog psychology into the mainstream.
Do Dogs Need Mental Health Medication?
The behaviorism of the early twentieth century would have you believe that dogs are little more than machines reacting to their environment. But dogs have much of the same brain circuitry as humans, and when brain chemistry goes haywire, so too can a dog’s behavior. A recent article in The Atlantic, for example, tells the tales of dogs whose behavior miraculously changed after getting the right prescription medication.Prozac as an anxious or depressed human. The dosage has to be adjusted to reflect the size difference between dogs and humans, of course, and veterinarians sometimes have to do some tweaking to find a medication that works.
How to Tell If Your Dog Needs Help
Medication isn’t a panacea for everything. You still have to socialize your dog and train him or her to be friendly and obedient. Reward-based training methods often improve the behavior of even the stubbornest dogs. If your dog seems untrainable or does things that put her health and safety in danger, though, she could be struggling with a mental health issue. It’s not safe to give your dog your own medication, but if you see any of the following symptoms, it’s time to consult your veterinarian:
- Sudden unexplained aggression
- Extreme fear of being left alone that may manifest in the form of destructiveness or escape attempts
- Constant barking, growling, or whining
- Obsessive behavior, such as constant licking even when your dog doesn’t have fleas or a wound
- Unexplained fear
- Symptoms such as excessive panting, drooling, or pacing
Not all veterinarians embrace pharmacological options for dogs’ mental health. If you want to give medication a try, you’ll need to call vets and ask whether they offer pharmacological solutions for behavioral problems.
- Beaver, B. V. (2009). Canine behavior: Insights and answers. St. Louis, MO: Saunders/Elsevier.
- Fisher, T. (2014, May 02). Dogs get anxiety, too. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/05/dogs-who-take-prozac/360146/
- Psychological disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://dogsnsw.org.au/resources/dogs-nsw-magazine/articles/health/177-psychological-disorders.html
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